Your Guide to Dog Nutrition: Essential Nutrients Dogs Need and Where to Get Them | Pupford
September 30th, 2023
Filed under Health + Wellness
Remember the good old food pyramid that helped guide us with what we should and shouldn’t eat? Although it’s been modified a bit, it was nice to have a guide in place.
But it seems like when it comes to our dogs, we’re left a little more in the dark about their nutritional needs. We get a lot of questions about what nutrients our dogs need, how to meet their nutritional needs, and what to avoid in food and supplements.
Let’s dive into those questions today with this intro guide to dog nutrition!
WHAT ARE NUTRIENTS EXACTLY?
The trick to understanding nutrients is understanding how they’re different from ingredients. While the ingredients in your dog’s food are important, they’re a little different than nutrients.
Nutrients provide nourishment for our pups that are essential for growth and the maintenance of life. Different chemical structures make up different important nutrients (like water, protein, etc.)
So then why do we focus so much on quality ingredients in our dog’s foods? Certain ingredients provide powerful punches of the most important nutrients with little else adding to their caloric value, so we want to select those as much as possible. Other ingredients, on the other hand, act only as fillers since they don’t have many (or any) nutrients in them, yet add calories – those we want to avoid.
ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS DOGS NEED
Every living being needs a variety of nutrients to survive. Each one fuels a different important bodily function to keep you, and your dog, functioning and thriving.
There are seven particular nutrients that are very important for your dog’s health. Let’s take a look at each one, what ingredients provide them, and how to incorporate them into your dog’s diet.
Did you know approximately 75% of an adult’s lean body mass is water? Water assists with so many important functions like dissolving and transporting other nutrients, regulating body temperature, aiding digestion, providing cushions, flushing waste, and more.
Luckily, it’s easy to make sure your dog has enough water in its diet. Your dog should have access to clean, fresh water (filtered tap water gets the job done just fine!) at all times. They’ll likely self-regulate their water intake based on their activity level that day, their temperature, the moisture content of their food, etc.
Unfortunately, your dog won’t know the difference between their filtered water at home and water they encounter during walks or when out and about. Never let your dog drink out of puddles or from stagnant water, as it may be contaminated. Whenever you’re out with your dog, carry around an extra water bottle and a to quench their thirst naturally.
In other words, provide an environment where your dog can drink clean water whenever they’re thirsty, and they’ll likely meet their water intake needs. Pretty simple!
Ever wonder why bodybuilders and professional athletes center their meals around protein? It’s literally the building block of muscles – along with hair, skin, nails, bones, and a lot of other really important body parts. Protein provides essential and non-essential amino acids which support not only those body structures but the production of hormones and antibodies too.
It’s crucial that your dog gets protein from its diet because the body can’t produce amino acids on its own and it can’t be stored so a constant supply is needed. The same is true for humans, by the way.
While all dogs need a good amount of protein in their diet, growing puppies and pregnant/nursing females will need more. Good thing protein is readily available in animal sources like lean meats (chicken, , lean beef, etc.), fish, and plant sources like beans and legumes.
Dogs should only be getting their protein from high-quality dog food or whole food sources. Your post-workout protein shake might be doing wonders for your health, but keep those types of protein supplements away from your furry friends.
Fat has historically gotten a bad rap in the nutrition world, but recently society has come to understand the benefits of fat for health – so long as it’s consumed in the proper amount and from high-quality sources.
Fat is important for providing your dog with the energy they need for their endless zoomies and fetch sessions. It also is the main source of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which supports organ, nervous system, skin, and coat health.
The best sources of essential fatty acids include low-mercury fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and hempseed oil. To avoid digestion issues and other health conditions, try to limit your dog’s fat intake to those sources rather than fatty human foods and table scraps.
We’re sure you’re familiar with vitamins – but do you really know what they are? Technically, they are carbon compounds. They can be fat-soluble meaning they’re stored in fatty tissue or in the liver, or water-soluble meaning that whatever isn’t absorbed isn't stored.
There are a lot of different types of vitamins, but let’s call out the ones that are most important for your dog’s health:
- Vitamin A - supports skin, eyes, and metabolism
- Vitamin D - supports bones
- Vitamin E - antioxidant properties
- Vitamin K - essential for blood clotting
- Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Panthothenic acid, Biotin - supports energy metabolism
- Pyridoxine - supports protein metabolism
- Folic acid - supports nerve development
- Choline - supports nerve function
- Vitamin B12 - supports blood cell development
- Vitamin C - antioxidant properties
It’s important to have a variety of these in your dog’s diet. Many brands of dog food will have a balanced blend of vitamins included, but whole food options include a variety of organ meat, muscle meat, and dog-friendly fruits and vegetables. You can also get specific to help with this!
We often hear “vitamins and minerals” talked about together, but they are different. While vitamins are organic (carbon-based) compounds, minerals are inorganic. There are two classes of minerals, macrominerals, and microminerals – both of which are essential for metabolic functions and can only be obtained through diet.
Some important minerals for your dog’s health include:
- Calcium and phosphorus - support bone health
- Iron - carries oxygen throughout the body
- Zinc - supports wound healing
- Selenium - supports antioxidants
- Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium - support nerve transmission
- Chloride - regulates fluid balance (along with potassium and sodium)
Different foods contain different minerals, so providing a balanced diet is the best way to meet mineral needs. While humans can easily grab a Zinc tablet or electrolyte drink mix to meet their mineral needs, any human-grade supplements should be kept away from our pup pals.
Starches, also known as carbohydrates, are not themselves an essential nutrient in your dog’s diet. Rather, they supply the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that your dog needs. They are also your dog’s main source of glucose, which is their body’s preferred source of fuel – so they’re pretty important.
Starches and carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains, so they are readily available in a balanced diet. Just be sure to choose sources that are not only safe for your dog to consume, but are filled with nutrients. You’ll want to avoid “empty” carbs like rice or pasta and opt for fruit and vegetables – unless you're under the guidance of your veterinarian to deal with an illness.
Fiber is another nutrient that while not considered “essential” for life, is important for overall health. Fiber aids in the digestion and transportation of other nutrients through the digestive tract where they are absorbed.
Fiber and carbohydrates are often seen together, and typically should be consumed together. A lot of fruits, vegetables, and legumes are rich in fiber as well as whole grains. Just be sure to understand how much fiber your dog needs in their diet, as too much can cause gastrointestinal issues.
DETERMINING YOUR DOG’S NUTRIENT NEEDS
Remember, an individual dog’s nutritional needs will vary based on age, breed, activity level, and more. It’s important to learn what your dog needs and how much of it is beneficial, to make sure their health is supported without risking toxicity.
Both whole foods and supplements are great to make sure your dog gets their essential nutrients. supplement is filled with the nutrients your dog needs to support gut, coat, skin, joints, immune health, and more.
If you still have questions about dog nutrition, you’re not alone! That’s why we put together a FREE brand new dog nutrition course, to give you all the information you need to understand the basics of dog nutrition and create a healthy diet for your pup! Check it out .